From China to Japan, deadly cold grips East Asia. Experts say it’s the “new normal.”


A deadly cold snap gripping East Asia has claimed the lives of at least four people in Japan after freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall during the Lunar New Year holiday caused travel chaos, with climate experts warning that such extremes weather conditions had become the “new normal”.

Japanese officials said all four of the dead had been working to clear snow on Wednesday and Thursday amid what Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has called a “once-in-a-decade cold snap.”

Two of the deaths were reported in western Niigata Prefecture, one in southwestern Oita Prefecture and one in southern Okayama Prefecture, where the victim suffered a heart attack.

In neighboring South Korea, heavy snow warnings were issued this week as temperatures dipped to minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital Seoul and plummeted to record lows in other cities, officials said. Residents said it began to snow heavily late on Wednesday and Thursday last night.

On the popular tourist island of Jeju, the harsh weather this week led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights, while passenger ships were forced to remain in port due to the huge waves, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.

“Cold air from the North Pole has reached South Korea directly,” Korea Meteorological Administration spokesman Woo Jin-kyu told CNN after touring Russia and China.

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Woo said that while scientists took a long-term view of climate change, “we can consider this extreme weather — extremely hot weather in the summer and extremely cold weather in the winter — as one of the signals of climate change.”

Across the border in Pyongyang, North Korean authorities warned of extreme weather conditions as the cold snap swept across the Korean peninsula. Temperatures in parts of North Korea were expected to drop below minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit), state media reported.

in Japan, hundreds of domestic flights were canceled Tuesday and Wednesday due to heavy snowfall and strong winds that obscured visibility. Major airlines Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have canceled a total of 229 flights.

High waves caused by a snow storm on Jeju Island, South Korea, January 24, 2023.

Meanwhile, high-speed trains were suspended between Fukushima and Shinjo northern stations, Japan Railway Group said.

China’s meteorological authority has also forecast major drops in temperature in parts of the country and on Monday issued a blue alert for a cold snap – the lowest level in a four-level warning system.

Mohe, China’s northernmost city, saw temperatures drop to minus 53 degrees Celsius (minus 63.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday — the coldest on record, meteorologists said. Ice fog — a weather phenomenon that occurs only in extreme cold when water droplets remain in liquid form in the air — is also expected in the city this week, local authorities said.

Other parts of Asia also felt the effects of severe cold.

Earlier this month, temperatures in Russian Siberia in the city of Yakutsk hit minus 62.7 degrees Celsius (minus 80.9 degrees Fahrenheit) — a record for a place widely known as the coldest city in the world.

The cold was also felt in Afghanistan, where Taliban officials reported the deaths of at least 157 people as the country endured one of its coldest winters on record with minimal humanitarian aid. Officials said temperatures had dropped to minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 Fahrenheit) in early January.

Tourists pose for photos in front of a thermometer reading -11.3 degrees Celsius, in Otaru, Hokkaido prefecture in northern Japan on January 24, 2023.

Yeh Sang-wook, a climate professor at Hanyang University in Seoul, attributed the extreme cold snap on the Korean Peninsula to Arctic winds from Siberia. a warming climate.

“A record was melted last year and this year,” he said. “As sea ice melts, the sea opens up, releasing more vapor into the air, leading to more snow in the north.”

As climate change worsens, the region will experience more severe cold weather in the future, he said.

“There is no other (explanation),” he said. “Climate change is indeed deepening and there is consensus among global scientists that this type of cold phenomenon will worsen in the future.”

Kevin Trenberth, of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), agreed that “extreme weather events are the new normal,” adding, “we can certainly expect extreme weather events to become worse than before.”

He also pointed to the climate patterns of El Niño and La Niña in the Pacific that influence weather worldwide.

La Niña, which typically has a cooling effect on global temperatures, is one of the reasons for the current cold snap, he said.

“There is certainly a lot of natural variation in the weather, but… we often hear about the El Nino phenomenon and right now we are in the La Niña phase. And that certainly affects the kind of patterns that are common. And that is also a player,” he said.

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